April eBird Contest, the Results from our March Contest and Some New Outreach Materials

Congratulations to Glennis Lewis and Louanne Reid, our March contest winners. Their checklist from the Oak Lake and Plum Lakes IBA was selected at random from an Excel spreadsheet. We had nearly 30 entries in March, and will expect a fair few more for our April contest.

We have another contest in April. All eligible checklists will again need to be entered under the IBA Protocol. Just to spice it up, we decided to add the stipulation that the eligible checklist needs to contain at least one goose or swan. April is the month when we can start to expect to see large numbers of waterfowl and other wetland birds gather as the ice cracks on lakes rivers across Manitoba.

To enter, all you need to do is share your eBird checklist with the account ‘ManitobaIBA’ or iba@naturemanitoba.ca and make sure you use the IBA Protocol (here is a reminder of the protocol).

For anyone not on eBird, you can still enter by adding information to our online reporting form.

Please note that we have one gas card per month, and each individual checklist will be entered as a single entry.

April IBA Contest


 

We have also just published a series of 15 new IBA cards, including ones for Riverton Sandy Bar, Whitewater Lake, Netley-Libau Marsh and our new IBA at Ellice-Archie and Spy Hill-Ellice. Each card includes suggested totals of birds that members of the the public could report to the program (you can now use our new reporting page to do this). These great resources would be perfect for birders, producers, wildlife enthusiasts, or hikers, sailors, or indeed anyone living and working in areas around local IBAs. For the full list of cards, and links,, check out the page on our website.

If you would like to receive one, or even a number of these cards, please email Tim Poole at iba@naturemanitoba.ca, or call the Nature Manitoba office at (204) 943-9029.

To give you an idea of what the cards look like, here is the card for Ellice-Archie and Spy Hill-Ellice IBA.

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With spring upon us, we will begin to plan ahead with an early spring event soon. Watch this space!

Media Catch-up From The Announcement of Our New IBA

We had a fair bit of media interest following last weeks announcement of our new IBA at the Ellice-Archie and Spy Hill Community Pastures. Here is a summary, please click on the links to read or listen to the stories:

  • Christian Artuso, Manitoba IBA Steering Committee Chair and MB Programs Director for Bird Studies Canada was interviewed in French for Radio Canada. You can listen to his interview at 6:47 by clicking the link – Radio Canada.
  • CBC also published a story on their website in French featuring quotes from Christian, Tim Poole and  – CBC French.
  • It seems like MSN picked up the same story – MSN.
  • Bryce Hoye interviewed Tim and the Spy Hill-Ellice Pasture Manager, Zane Fredbjornson for the CBC website, this time in English. Extracts of the interviews also featured in news headlines – CBC English.
  • CBC Saskatchewan also interviewed Christian – CBC SK.
  • CBC posted a link on their Facebook page – CBC Facebook
  • The same story was featured by Yahoo News – Yahoo news.
  • Tim and Zane were also interviewed for a piece in the Manitoba Cooperator – MB Cooperator.
  • The same publication also mentioned the IBA designation in a piece about the relationship between cattle and biodiversity featuring Manitoba Sustainable Development Species At Risk Technician, Ken De Smet, and some fascinating background on the recent travails of Burrowing Owls, Ferruginous Hawk and Loggerhead Shrike – MB Cooperator, De Smet.
  • CKDM Radio briefly featured the story on their website – CKDM. Tim Poole was also interviewed for the news program.
  • Nature Manitoba published the story on their website and monthly newsletter – Nature MB.
  • On a related note, The Manitoba Cooperator published a story on conservation and the beef industry following a session at the recent Prairie Conservation and Endangered Species Conference in Winnipeg. The story featured interviews with award winning producer from the Southwestern Manitoba Mixed-grass Prairie IBA, Curtis Gervin, Manitoba Habitat Heritage Corporation CEO and Manitoba IBA Steering Committee member, Tim Sopuck, and Christian – Manitoba Cooperator.

There are a couple more publications and interviews still to be published, in which case these will be added to this list at a later date. Feel free to send us any news reports that you have found at iba@naturemanitoba.ca.

Win a $50 Co-op Gas Card – New Manitoba IBA Contest for 2019!

The Manitoba IBA Program is delighted that Red River Co-op will be supporting a new initiative to get more people to submit birding records to the program and using our data portal, eBird. Each month from spring to fall, we will set a monthly prize draw for a $50 Co-op gas card. Each month will have a different theme. The rules are simple for anyone wishing to enter:

  1. Each eBird checklist submitted to the program will be eligible as long as:
    1. It is within the boundary of any of Manitoba’s 36 IBAs (for a list of all our Manitoba IBAs, you can simply look at our updated map, clicking here) and;
    2. The checklist is submitted using the IBA Canada Protocol, or if the monitoring is for shorebirds, the International Shorebird Survey (90% should be the former). Here is more information on using the IBA Canada Protocol.
  2. Email the program at iba@naturemanitoba.ca, so we can set up a link to your eBird account. You will need to share your eBird profile name so we can set up a direct link with our account.
  3. Once complete, share your checklist with our account, username being ManitobaIBA (one word).
  4. Each single eligible checklist will be submitted to the contest via a randomised draw (we will use an Excel spreadsheet randomiser to make it fair). The winner will be contacted and then announced early the following month.
  5. Anyone is eligible to enter, except members of the staff from the Manitoba IBA Program.

If you are not an eBird user, do not despair. We have developed a new tool to upload your information to eBird. There is now an online form on our website to match the IBA reporting cards which we have produced, or are producing for each IBA. These will also be included in the contest, with one entry for every day that a bird submission is made via this form. You can see the form, and how easy it is to use at this link.

The first contest will be for March. As this is a shortened month, both for birding in IBAs, and with the long winter, we have made it simple.

For any bird observation submitted during the month of March from any IBA, you will be eligible for the contest.

Happy Birding!

March 2019 IBA Contest Poster

Announcement – Ellice-Archie and Spy Hill Community Pastures Important Bird and Biodiversity Area

Bird Studies Canada, Nature Manitoba and Nature Saskatchewan are delighted to announce a new Important Bird and Biodiversity Area (IBA) in Manitoba and Saskatchewan. The Ellice-Archie and Spy Hill Community Pastures IBA contains significant breeding populations of two globally threatened bird species, a host of other priority birds, and impressive biodiversity.  “Bird Studies Canada is thrilled to designate this new site and to support the essential role that Community Pastures play in keeping birds and biodiversity on the landscape,” said Andrew Couturier, Senior Director, Landscape Science and Conservation with Bird Studies Canada.

Ellice-Archie and Spy Hill Community Pastures (read full profile here)

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The Ellice-Archie and Spy Hill Community Pastures IBA is located near Spy Hill in Saskatchewan, and Birtle and St Lazare in Manitoba. This is the first Manitoba IBA to  cross the provincial boundary into Saskatchewan, although the Saskatchewan River Delta and Cumberland Marshes IBAs are part of a huge adjoining wetland complex between Cumberland House and The Pas. The Spy Hill-Ellice Community Pasture nestles between the Assiniboine and Qu-Appelle River Valleys, with the Ellice-Archie Community Pasture bordered by the Assiniboine River on the east, and a smaller river valley to the west.

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Original map can be downloaded from the IBA Canada website (https://www.ibacanada.com/site.jsp?siteID=MB103)

The Ellice-Archie and Spy Hill Community Pastures take you back to a time long gone. A time when an ocean of grass would spread over the prairies. The experience of wildness begins in the base of the Assiniboine and Qu’Appelle River Valleys. The tall riparian woodlands provide a home for a chorus of migrating and breeding songbirds during May and June.  Climbing the valley sides, the riparian forest phases into an intermediate oak-aspen scrub. Both Eastern and Spotted Towhees breed here – and probably the occasional hybrid can be seen as well. It is only once you climb through the scrub zone that you reach the climax, a sea of grass on the plateau at the top of the valleys.

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Looking back into the valley, an image of Manitoba’s prairie past. Photo copyright Christian Artuso

The Ellice-Archie and Spy Hill Community Pastures are shaped by history. That history is shaped by the combination of nature and people. The grassland ecosystem would once have been conserved by natural processes, including climate, wildfire and grazing by large herbivores, notably Plains Bison. Some of this area was broken prior to the 1930’s. The dirty thirties define this area in modern history. The Community Pastures were established in the 1930’s as PFRA sites (Prairie Farm Rehabilitation Administration), following years of drought. Drought caused widespread crop failure on lands poorly suited for cultivation, and this led to alternative land-uses being sought. Grass species, notably native species, are drought tolerant and provide land cover which reduces erosion, leading to the establishment of these pastures across Manitoba and Saskatchewan

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It is rare to find an area in Manitoba with grass this widespread. Copyright Christian Artuso

Interest in the Community Pastures peaked in the past few years following the federal governments decision to divest the management of Community Pastures to provincial control. In Manitoba, this led to the establishment of the Association of Manitoba Community Pastures (AMCP). The grasslands of the Ellice-Archie and Spy Hill-Ellice Community Pastures are primarily native mixed-grass prairie, with some smaller patches of tame non-native grass species.

The two pastures are managed by professional Pasture Managers employed by AMCP. AMCP is a non-profit organization governed by a Board of Directors composed of pasture patrons.  Overall it manages 20 community pastures across Manitoba, and is a significant contributor to the conservation of grassland Species At Risk in Manitoba.

The Province of Manitoba awarded AMCP the 2017 Manitoba Excellence in Sustainability Award for Water and Natural Areas Stewardship.   The Award recognizes AMCP’s range management practices, the numerous environmental benefits of the community pasture program, as well as support for Manitoba’s cattle industry and rural communities.  The specific management activities that support healthy grasslands undertaken by dedicated staff include:

  • Maintenance of large, intact areas;
  • Moderate/sustainable stocking rates;
  • Managed grazing rotations adjusted annually;
  • Work done by horseback to protect the lands; and
  • Range health assessments and long-term land management planning.

Significant Birds and Biodiversity

AMCP is supported by the Range Implementation and Management Group (RIMG). RIMG is comprised of government agencies (Manitoba Agriculture and Manitoba Sustainable Development), a crown corporation (Manitoba Habitat Heritage Corporation) and non-government organisations (Nature Conservancy of Canada and Bird Studies Canada).

Members of the RIMG are involved in monitoring the wider environment around these Community Pastures. It was during these monitoring sessions that it became apparent that Ellice-Archie and Spy Hill-Ellice were special. Dr. Christian Artuso of Bird Studies Canada carried out point counts in 2017, finding 151 species of birds, including 15 Species At Risk. Of those Species of Risk, some were migrants (Canada Warbler, Olive-sided Flycatcher, Rusty Blackbird, Harris Sparrow), some were woodland, scrub and riparian breeding species (Bank Swallow, Eastern Wood-Pewee, Eastern Whip-Poor-Will), and some were grassland birds.

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Eastern Whip-poor-will, cryptic, handsome, yet highly threatened. This woodland species breeds in the IBA. Copyright Christian Artuso

According to various reports, grassland birds are one of the most under threat groups of birds in North America (see State of Canada’s Birds, 2012 for example). Significant populations of two globally vulnerable species of bird breed in these pastures. Sprague’s Pipit numbers are truly impressive. 146 calling males were counted in 2017 across a sample portion of both community pastures.

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It may not look like much, but boy you should hear these guys sing! Sprague’s Pipit provide a cascading flight song, echoing across the prairie. Copyright Christian Artuso

The highest total count of another globally threatened grassland bird, the Chestnut-collared Longspur, was 230 individuals in June 2015. Both these totals qualify as globally significant under Birdlife International’s criteria for IBA designation. At the Ellice-Archie Community Pasture, a total of 1.1 Sprague’s Pipit per point count and 1.4 Chestnut-collared Longspur per point count is the highest recorded densities of these species in Manitoba.

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The handsome male Chestnut-collared Longspur. Photo copyright Christian Artuso

Another threatened grassland bird, Baird’s Sparrow (provincially Endangered, nationally Special Concern) is also present in high concentrations. 12 calling males were recorded here in 2017. There are also good numbers of Grasshopper Sparrow, plus this is one of the best places in Manitoba to see the stunning Mountain Bluebird.

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A singing male Baird’s Sparrow. Copyright Christian Artuso

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These grassland birds are under severe pressure. They breed in large, uninterrupted areas of grassland. If the grassland is fragmented (i.e., split up into small portions by roads, fences, infrastructure, scrub, or cropland), then the ability of that grassland to support large concentrations of grassland birds becomes compromised. Fragmenting these habitats may also increase levels of predation, and parasitism by cowbirds. Therefore conserving these large areas of grassland are critical to the survival of these species in Manitoba.

It is not just a place which is special for birds. A report from Manitoba Sustainable Development found at least ten provincially rare or uncommon plants within the IBA in 2002, including Indian Rice Grass and Waxleaf Beardtongue. Of most interest was the presence of the Roundleaf Monkey-Flower, a nationally rare species found in springs and seepy slopes.

Conservation

Ellice-Archie and Spy Hill Community Pastures sits at a crossroads. There are numerous, dire threats facing these critical grassland complexes, including the following:

  • There are few areas of expansive grassland remaining in Manitoba. Tallgrass Prairie, found in remnant patches in southeastern Manitoba near Tolstoi, became one of two endangered ecosystems listed in the Manitoba Endangered Species and Ecosystems Act in 2015. The conservation status of mixed-grass prairie in Manitoba fares little better. Therefore, the future for these birds and their associated habitats is dependent on conserving this expanse of community pasture, the animals that graze it, and the people that steward the land.
  • The proposed Birtle Transmission Line may be routed through the centre of the Spy Hill-Ellice Community Pasture in Saskatchewan (see Nature Manitoba’s objection here). Fragmentation, effectively slicing the grassland in half, is a large factor in the decline of many species, leading to predation, parasitism and an effective loss of habitat.
  • Mineral extraction, notably for potash is a potential future threat. A potash mine is already located on the boundary of the IBA within the province of Saskatchewan.

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    The north end of the new IBA. Note the potash mine circled in red

  • It is not just potash. The subsurface of the IBA is within the Bakken Oil Fields. Subsurface rights are key, and currently 50% are in the hands of the Crown. The  subsurface holdings are like a checkerboard, and therefore, even if the Crown retains the subsurface rights, there is huge potential for oil extraction over the remainder of the IBA. The demand for extraction activities makes it very difficult to guarantee the extent and quality of the mixed-grass prairie expanses on these pastures.
  • The cumulative impacts of the above industrialisation will likely lead to large-scale losses of habitat, an increase in predation, and parasitism from generalist species such as the Brown-headed Cowbird. However, we need to consider another factor which has been touched upon, but not recognised above. What about the pasture itself, the Pasture Manager, the grazing animals, and the impact that changes to the wider area would have?
  • Climate Change will have an impact on all ecosystems. We need robust grassland ecosystems. In fact, grasslands provide us with huge benefits, for example intact soils sequester, or store carbon.

Opportunities

We mentioned earlier that these are actively managed pastures, but we have not expanded on what this means for the Ellice-Archie and Spy Hill Community Pastures IBA. We have previously espoused the benefit of active grazing management on the conservation of grassland birds. We work on projects with a wide variety of partners, including the Manitoba Beef Producers, Manitoba Habitat Heritage Corporation, West Souris River Conservation District, and Turtle Mountain Conservation District. These projects are aimed squarely at retaining a working landscape, with working people, and grazing animals. Grassland birds need grass. They do not breed in fields of soy beans, or corn, or wheat or potatoes. They need the complex structural mosaic that diverse grass species can offer. They also need the complex structure provided by grazing animals. In our modern world, this means cows. Grassland birds in the native prairies therefore need a thriving beef industry to retain and conserve these special habitats.

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Ecosystem drivers in action in the new IBA. Cattle are of biological, economical and cultural importance to this area. Photo copyright Christian Artuso

A number of organisations, including Manitoba Sustainable Development, Manitoba Agriculture, Nature Conservancy Canada, Manitoba Habitat Heritage Corporation and Bird Studies Canada, are coming together to work with AMCP to find ways to protect this special place. An amendment under the Crown Lands Act was made recently to enable the designation of community pastures as protected areas. The next steps of course will be to bring this to fruition, but this is a postive development which will protect the land, while retaining the grazing interest.

The AMCP and Pasture Managers are the critical component to Species At Risk management at the Ellice-Archie and Spy Hill-Ellice Community Pastures IBA. The grazing animals and the systems they use to sensitively manage this land, has created something special. We have a place in Manitoba where a sea of grass provides habitat for hundreds of threatened breeding birds, in densities found nowhere else in our province. Surely for this reason alone, this is a place not only worth being called an Important Bird and Biodiversity Area, but also a place worth protecting for generations to come.


If you are interested in visiting this IBA, first understand it is a working landscape. You will need permission from the pasture manager ahead of time, and he will obviously not wish to have lots of people calling. If there is interest, instead, first email the Manitoba IBA Program at iba@naturemanitoba.ca, and we will look into if and how that interest can be met. PR41 from St Lazare to McAuley and further south to Kirkella on the TransCanada does cross the middle of Ellice-Archie, so if you are in the area, this is a great way of seeing the IBA without leaving the road.

Bird Studies Canada Blog by Manitoba IBA

Manitoba IBA Program were delighted that Bird Studies Canada (BSC) asked our Coordinator, Tim Poole to write a piece for their latest enews. The piece is about work funded by the Baillie Fund on the west side of Lake Manitoba.

Thank you to the Baillie Fund for its support in 2018, and to all the people that contribute to the fund through the Birdathon.

You can read the blog at https://www.birdscanada.org/news/baillie-fund-helps-recruit-local-champions-for-birds